World Health Organization: better a risky abortion than an unplanned child

By Shauna Segadelli, Law Student for Life

Ban all limits to abortion.  Make abortion legal, “safe,” and accessible to all women, regardless of age, parental consent, or length of pregnancy.  That is the World Health Organization’s policy recommendation, advocated in its 2012 edition of “Safe Abortion: Technical and policy guidance for health systems.”

This advice is based on the assertion that having an abortion is safer than undergoing childbirth.  Even a risky abortion, the subtext screams.  “The implications of unwanted births are not well studied, but the effects can be harmful and long-lasting for women and for those who are born unwanted.”  The “effects” of unwanted births meaning children’s lives.  In 134 pages, the guide is completely devoid of any reference to the unborn child as a human life, preferring instead to refer to unwanted “products of conception” and the steps necessary to ensure “fetal demise.”

The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) responded to the WHO guidelines with a critical report, “Eleven Problems with the WHO Technical Guidance on Abortion”: “A primary concern is the WHO seems to be recommending abortion practices for women in developing countries that have been rejected by medical experts in the developed world.  WHO bases its promotion of the revised guidelines on claims that abortion is both safer than childbirth and also a human right, neither of which enjoys international agreement.”

The guide seeks “to demedicalize abortion care” so that women in underdeveloped countries can have access to abortion, forgoing the accepted medical standards of Western countries so that untrained practitioners can meet the demand.  WHO abuses its place as standard-bearer for medical research and best practices.  As C-FAM’s report puts it, the guide “provides legal cover for insufficiently skilled practitioners or those working in impoverished regions in need of better general health care infrastructure.”

The problems with WHO’s guidelines, detailed by C-FAM, include ignoring research pointing to adverse health side-effects in post-abortive women, burying both high failed abortion rates and the dangers of failed abortion, assuming that health facilities are available to treat complications in case of emergency, recommending disposal of the child’s body in a sewer or latrine, and failing to recommend ultrasound, follow-up care, or drugs that have become standard in medical practice.

WHO claims a human rights-based approach to women’s health in the document: “Laws and policies on abortion should protect women’s health and their human rights. Regulatory, policy and programmatic barriers that hinder access to and timely provision of safe abortion care should be removed.”  But abortion has never been accepted by the UN General Assembly as a human right.

In this matter, WHO urges developing nations, where abortion is a “privilege” for the wealthy, to follow the lead of their Western counterparts.  “In nearly all developed countries, safe abortions are legally available upon request or under broad social and economic grounds, and services are generally easily accessible and available.”  If abortion on-demand is the law of the U.S., why not everywhere?